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Nutrient - Extracts from: Nutrition Solutions for Optimising Skin Health

By Holly Taylor BSc(Hons) DipCNM MBANT NTCC

An easy-to-read, in-depth look at the skin, including many of the conditions that can cause so much distress, this book is filled with practical nutritional advice.

Introducing your body’s largest organ: the skin

Your skin measures about two square metres and weighs an amazing 4.5-5kg. Of all the body’s organs, none is more exposed to the elements than your skin, whose primary role is to offer protection from the harsh external environment. The skin also provides a whole range of sensory information, allowing you to experience pleasure, pain and other stimuli, as well as supplying mechanisms to regulate your body temperature, synthesise vitamin D and absorb and excrete a whole variety of different substances. Because of its visibility, your skin can also reflect emotions - such as frowning or blushing - or signs of ill health - such as the yellow tinge of jaundice or spots caused by a hormone imbalance.

The skin at work

Protection

First and foremost is the role the skin plays in protection. The layers of keratinised cells that make up the outer part of the epidermis form a physical barrier between the delicate structures inside your body and the hostile outer environment. This waterproof layer helps to guard the body against dehydration, abrasion, chemicals and invasion by microbes, while the pigment melanin helps shield your insides from the sun’s UV rays.

The oily sebum from the sebaceous glands also helps to keep skin and hairs from drying out and contains chemicals that can kill skin-surface bacteria, while your sweat is able to slow the growth of certain microbes.

Due to the presence of sensory nerve endings in the skin, your body can also react, by reflex action, to unpleasant or painful stimuli. These super-fast, involuntary reactions help to protect your body from further injury, when it is exposed to something harmful.

Temperature regulation

The skin also helps to regulate your body temperature, via the sweating mechanism and by adjusting the amount of blood flowing through the dermis.

When the temperature of the body increases by 0.25-0.5°C, sweat glands all over the body are stimulated to release sweat onto the skin surface. As this sweat evaporates, it helps lower body temperature. Sweat droplets are only seen on the skin when the sweat is being produced faster than it can evaporate, a common occurrence at high temperatures or in humid conditions.

Synthesis of vitamin D

Vitamin D is produced in the skin after exposure to sunlight. In order for this to happen, UVB rays from the sun have to activate a precursor molecule in the epidermis. Enzymes in the liver and kidneys then modify the activated molecule to produce calcitriol – the most active form of vitamin D.

Calcitriol aids the uptake of calcium from the diet and helps promote the healthy mineralisation of bones. What’s more, vitamin D is now known to regulate many vital activities in the body, such as energy production, the healing of wounds and fighting off infection, in addition to helping to control the decoding of your DNA blueprints for proper regulation of cell growth. Without vitamin D, the immune system can become disordered and bones become weak.

Only a small amount of UV light is required for vitamin D synthesis, but the sunlight has to be the correct wavelength. In Northern European countries, such as the UK, a light-skinned person wearing a bathing suit will make about 15,000iu of vitamin D, if they expose themselves to 15 minutes of midday sun in July – that’s enough vitamin D for about four days. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the rest of the year! In wintertime, even at midday, the sunlight is so weak you’d have to stand outside, naked, for hours to synthesise a significant amount of vitamin D!

Excretion

Although not a primary elimination organ, the skin does play a small role in the excretion of waste products. Despite the almost waterproof nature of the epidermis, about 400ml of water escapes through it daily. An inactive person will then lose an additional 200ml of water, as sweat, whereas a physically active person will lose much more. Beside the removal of heat and water from the body, sweat also serves as a vehicle for the excretion of small amounts of salts, carbon dioxide and waste products. Certain foods; such as curry, garlic and strong spices; also contain chemicals that may be excreted in the sweat, which is why a session at the gym can leave you smelling like last night’s takeaway!

Absorption

The absorption of water-soluble substances through the skin is negligible, but certain fat-soluble substances can penetrate. These include the gases oxygen and carbon dioxide and beneficial substances such as the vitamins A, D, E and K, in addition to certain drugs. This is the basis for the nicotine patches that are used to help people stop smoking and the hormonal patches some doctors prescribe for the menopause.

Sensation

As mentioned earlier, the dermis contains sensory nerve endings that can detect touch, pressure, temperature and pain. Stimulation of these nerve endings generates an electrical impulse that travels through the nervous system into the cerebral cortex – the area of the brain that deals with perception, memory, attention, thought, language and consciousness. Some areas of the skin have more sensory receptors than others, causing them to be especially sensitive to touch. Key examples are the fingertips and lips, which explains why a blind person can read Braille and why kissing is such an intimate experience! 

An important part of a skin support plan

Vegetables

Vegetables are packed with fibre and are literally bursting with antioxidants. The more colours you can include, the wider the spectrum of nutrients you’ll get! Most vegetables are also strongly alkalising, which means they help to offset some of your body’s acidic load. However, starchy vegetables need to be limited in the diet, as they release their sugars quickly and can upset blood sugar levels if eaten in excess. 

  • Fill 50% of your plate with alkalising vegetables, aiming for at least three different colours per main meal
  • Limit starchy vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, butternut squash, parsnip, pumpkin and sweet potato to one half cup serving per day

Alkalising vegetables

  • Alfalfa
  • Asparagus
  • Artichoke
  • Aubergine
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chard greens
  • Courgette
  • Cucumber
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Endive
  • Green beans
  • Green peas
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leek
  • Lettuce
  • Mushroom
  • Mustard Greens
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Peppers
  • Radishes
  • Rocket
  • Seaweeds
  • Spinach
  • Spring greens
  • Sprouted seeds
  • Sprouted beans
  • Tomatoes
  • Watercress

So, whether you suffer with a skin condition, are concerned about ageing or just want beautiful skin, it’s vital to provide your body with the necessary support. This should include: 

  • A daily dose of a skin-specific multi-nutrient containing all the important skin vitamins and minerals, along with digestion-supporting nutrients and cleansing herbs 
  • 1-2tbsp of organic omega oil containing organic cold pressed flax seed oil, organic cold pressed hemp seed oil or a balanced mixture of organic cold pressed seed oils.

The chapters in the rest of this book provide further information on support for specific skin complaints. 


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